Photography Notes: Miami International Airport
by Andrew Abshier
 
MIA has undergone many changes since 1985, the last time I visited and did extensive photography, mainly in the terminal area and in the cargo areas in the northwest corner and southwest corner.  Thankfully many of the great photography spots were left at least semi-intact, probably more by accident than by design but hey, I'll take it!

These notes are provided with the caveat that I am not a south Florida resident.  If you live in the area and have any additions or corrections to the following, please let me hear about them.   Email me here.

East Operations

For east operations, THE classic spot at MIA is in the northwest corner, just south of the intersection of Runways 9L and 12.  For many years this fenceline position was occupied only by a disused parking lot.  Recently, though, the U.S. Customs service built their MIA headquarters there.  Fortunately it hasn't hurt photography too much.  The runways intersect just east of the building, so it is possible to set up in the small vacant area just east of their parking lot.  This is a great spot to catch  aircraft ATR-42 size and up  taxiing into position on 12, catching aircraft nearing touchdown on 12, and (with a 200mm lens)  widebody movements 767-300 size  and longer taxiing to 9L.  As a bonus, the area is landscaped with palm trees, which is a very nice feature for those of us who are fair-skinned.

About 1000 ft. (307m) east of the Customs building, the access road to a cargo parking area runs right along the fence.  No parking of cars is allowed against the fence, but parking across the street is acceptable, and if your vehicle is tall enough, it is an awesome spot to catch aircraft touching down!  Jennings Heilig and I spent  3 hours on the top of a van (thanks, Eric Olson!) and we had a great time!  See my  LTU MD-11 and my  Grupo TACA 737 for examples of the type of shot possible here.  Like the Customs spot, anything from ATR-42 size and up is fair game.

For the above two spots, you will need ladders to take photographs without fencelines in the frame.  Ladder use is barely tolerated by the authorities on the northwest side so one should follow a strict protocol when using them.  The local photographers usually do not keep their ladders standing between photos; instead, they are always folded and laid down.  Also, a ladder usually isn't placed near the fence until a picture is about to be made, and once the picture is made, the ladder is immediately taken away.  I didn't have any trouble with authorities in the northwest spot, as long as I stuck to this procedure.

Parking cars next to the fence is not allowed, and signs are clearly posted indicating this.  As previously stated, parking across the street is fine, and standing on cars or vans, as long as they were parked across the street, did not arouse any attention from the authorities.

Finally, there is a spot on the northwest corner of Runway 09L.  This a good spot in the summertime to catch aircraft taxiing onto Runway 9L in the late afternoon.  With a 200mm lens only  aircraft MD-11 size and longer  are full-frame photos, and, once again, you'll need a ladder to photograph clear of the fence.

I did not try to cover arrivals and departures on Runway 9R, so I won't speak about spots at the end of that runway.

West Operations

West operations are problematic.  The main departure runways on west ops are 30 and 27L, south of the passenger terminal.  There are no public parking areas immediately south of the intersection of these two runways; the nearest public parking is in the east airport observation lot right off Perimeter Road just east of the 94th Aero Group Restauraunt.  Your only choice is to park there, and hike almost 1/2 mile to the intersection.

Then, of course, when you get there, there is still the fence to be dealt with.  With some trepidation, I took a ladder with me for my session on the south side.  The fence is very close to the road, so there was the problem of fast-moving cars going past.  I followed "ladder protocol" (see above) and for 1 1/2 hours I took photos of departing aircraft.  Even with a 7 foot ladder it wasn't possible to get my camera above the barbed wire, so panning departing aircraft was difficult; probably only half of the airplanes I shot on departure came out satisfactorily.  See the  U. S. Airways 737-300 and  AVIANCA MD-80 for examples of runway shots on 27L.

Finally, after 1 1/2 hours of taking photos, and watching police cars drive right past me, a policeman pulled over to talk to me.  As I expected, I was told I couldn't use my ladder to photograph clear of the fence, but the cop was actually apologetic about it!  He said he wasn't bothered by it, but that someone in the Aviation Department had called in a complaint.  Since I had been working in full view of the terminal, I wasn't surprised that someone noticed.

So I moved across the street, and worked approaches.  Some real high-quality shots can be made of approaching traffic for 30--and they can be shot in almost any way you desire, from directly below (which I didn't do), to  3/4 front , to   alongside.   Runway 27L arrivals can be  photographed  also, but on west ops 27R is the primary arrivals runway: I didn't try to locate a spot to cover those.

For takeoff shots on 27L, the east public parking lot is possibly a good spot.  I went there to photograph just one airplane, a  Delta MD-80 in the new colors.  Obviously takeoff shots are problematic at the best of times, because different aircraft depart at different lengths of the runway.
 

Lighting

The best time to visit south Florida for photography is between October and March, when the sun is oriented more to the south.   This photo,  taken in late February, shows the quality of lighting at that time of year; compare to this shot of an  AVIANCA 767-200 which was taken in late April.  In the summer, the sun is essentially overhead, and the gives very poor lighting on any movements heading east or west.  On the other hand, the longer days during the summer allows photography of many of the 747s as they leave in the late afternoon, and with all of the new British Airways tails and Alitalia logojets serving MIA,  that is nothing to sneeze at!
 

Etiquette

Photography and aircraft spotting are considered "fringe" hobbies in the United States so the presence of photographers at airports is only tolerated at best.  To ensure that we all have the opportunity to photograph at MIA (or most other airports for that matter) I would strongly encourage you to follow these guidelines:

1.  Always park in designated public parking areas; avoid parking in spots obviously labeled "NO PARKING".
2.  Bring a trash bag with you to put film boxes, food wrappers, etc.; don't litter your area near the fenceline.  Take your trash out with you when you leave.
3.  Follow ladder protocol (see above).
4.  DON'T make holes in the fence for lenses with wire cutters!!  That sends the wrong message to the authorities!!  (My friend Jennings has seen it done; he reported them).
5.  If authorities stop to ask what you're doing, tell them the truth, and be meticulously polite about it, even if the official is being rude with you.  You can always take his/her name and badge number and report them to their supervisor later.  I've found that arguing with them only makes matters worse.
6.  Be considerate of your fellow photographers; they have the same right to be there as you do.
 

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